When construction for the Duck Pond began in 1974, University architect Van Dorn Hooker said he shrugged off initial criticism of the project.
As Dorn Hooker wrote of the most vocal nay-sayers, the staff of the New Mexico Daily Lobo, in his book “Only in New Mexico: An Architectural History of the University of New Mexico,” the student paper “had a field day criticizing the whole idea of the pond … they called it the No-Name pond and said as each construction day went by, it reached new heights of tackiness.”
Dorn Hooker, who has since retired, said he knew the pond would make a great addition to the campus.
“I knew what we were planning was good, those people had the wrong impressions. I didn’t pay attention to it. I knew it was good,” Dorn Hooker said.
Today, there is rarely a time when students are not lounging beside the Duck Pond.
Dorn Hooker, 92, served as the University architect from 1963 to 1987, and was in charge of managing and planning architectural projects throughout the University. By the time Dorn Hooker retired, 75 major buildings, remodeling and additions were completed.
He also raked in 30 design awards for architecture and landscaping for the University. Of his many projects Hooker oversaw the work of the Duck Pond, The Pit, the Humanities Building, Farris Engineering, as well as new additions to Zimmerman Library.
Dorn Hooker has had several books published since his retirement, including “Only in New Mexico…” which won the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Award from the State Office of Cultural Affairs in 2001. Dorn Hooker is currently putting the final touches on his new book, an untitled work concerning the people behind the names of buildings, monuments and memorials on campus.
“I didn’t want these people to be forgotten, so many of them had so much to do with the history of the University,” Dorn Hooker said. “It is a question from many people I talk to; they say ‘I always wondered who Zimmerman was.’”
Dorn Hooker’s career in architecture first began after taking some advice from his doctor while living in Austin. Dorn Hooker had viral pneumonia and was advised to take life easy — he agreed and moved with his wife to California. There, he studied architectural design at the University of California, Berkeley, with the money awarded to him from his GI Bill.
A few years later, Dorn Hooker moved to Santa Fe to work in a partnership, where he worked on the first Santa Fe Opera.
On a morning coffee run, Dorn Hooker noticed an advertisement for an architecture position at UNM. He said he quickly applied for the position. UNM Director of Student Affairs Sherman Smith, who was impressed with his application, called then president Tom Popejoy.
Popejoy already decided to hire an applicant from the University of Iowa, but Smith got to him before the offer was extended, Dorn Hooker said.
“Sherman called Popejoy and asked him if he had made that call yet and he said ‘No, I’ll do it right now.’ Sherman said ‘No, wait, I’ve got somebody else,’” he said.
While serving as the University architect, Dorn Hooker said he focused on adding projects that continued the theme of the Southwest architecture already on campus.
“When we were doing a major building on main campus, I would have the architect make a model of the building, showing the facades of the buildings around it, how did it relate to the other buildings,” he said.
Geraldine Forbes Isais, dean of UNM School of Architecture and Planning, said Dorn Hooker’s work was both progressive and traditional.
“Dorn Hooker had a very strong vision for how a contemporary campus could serve the people of New Mexico, even if the architecture referred to traditional New Mexico architecture,” Forbes Isais said. “He tried to design and assemble buildings that spoke as much to the future as they did to the past. That’s what students are about, they’re our future.”
Forbes Isais said it’s important for people, whether students, faculty or staff, to remember that an architect like Dorn Hooker helped design the walkways and plazas throughout the University.
“Whether it’s walking around campus or walking around the city, we tend not to think that those environments were planned and designed by professionals that actually define the built environment,” she said. “When you turn a corner on campus, you see something that’s wonderful and inspiring, rather than get lost.”
Dorn Hooker said his work reflects the few words of advice from former president Popejoy.
“Tom Popejoy said one time; he thought the campus had an influence on the students, an aesthetic feeling that helped students,” he said. “I hope so.”